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Edward Edwards August 2009 court appearance
Edward W. Edwards makes his initial appearance in Jefferson County Circuit Court on Aug. 13, 2009.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — An elderly Kentucky con man who pleaded guilty to five slayings in Wisconsin and Ohio — and was on death row for his most recent crime — has died in prison of natural causes, an Ohio prisons spokesman said Friday.

Edward Edwards, 77, died Thursday night at the Corrections Medical Center in Columbus, where he was being held, spokesman Carlo LoParo told The Associated Press. An autopsy was to be performed, but it was not immediately clear whether it had been completed.

Edwards' death was first reported by the Daily Jefferson County Union newspaper in Fort Atkinson, Wis.

The newspaper said Edwards suffered from leukemia, heart ailments and diabetes; needed a wheelchair; and had often showed up at court hearings hooked to an oxygen tank. The cause of his death wasn't released.

The Louisville, Ky., man was sentenced to death after he admitted killing his 25-year-old foster son in 1996 for $250,000 in life insurance. He told the AP in a prison interview last year that he confessed to killing Dannie Boy Edwards outside Burton, east of Cleveland, because he wanted the death penalty.

Edwards had already been serving life sentences for his other crimes.

He had pleaded guilty to killing Bill Lavaco, 21, of Doylestown, and Judith Straub, 18, of Sterling, in 1977. They were shot in the neck at close range.

In Wisconsin, he admitted to killing 19-year-old sweethearts Tim Hack and Kelly Drew, who disappeared from a wedding reception in Jefferson County in August 1980. Their bodies were found weeks later in the woods.

The investigation into their deaths languished until 2007, when state analysts developed a DNA profile from semen found on Drew's pants.

Investigators gathered DNA from more than 75 potential suspects in hopes of a match. One of Edwards' children saw stories about the murders in 2009 and called authorities to say Edwards might have been the killer.

The child remembered starting school in Watertown in 1980 but then abruptly leaving Wisconsin, and said Edwards was working at the reception hall where Hack and Drew were last seen. The child remembered Edwards saying the bodies would turn up in a field.

Detectives traveled to Louisville, got DNA from Edwards and matched it to the profile. They arrested him in 2009.

Born in Akron in 1933, Edwards wrote in his 1972 autobiography "Metamorphosis of a Criminal" that he spent his early years being beaten by nuns in an orphanage. When a nun asked him what he wanted to be, he told her, "Sister, I'm gonna be a crook, and I'm gonna be a good one."

According to his book, he escaped from jail in Akron in 1955 by pushing past a guard and fled across the country, holding up gas stations for money. He never wore a mask because he wanted to be famous.

In 1961, he landed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. He eventually was captured in Atlanta.

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